By Naofumi Kondo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterNARA — The Nara prefectural government has decided to lease the governor’s official residence and the land where the residence is located in the city of Nara to a private company to build a hotel, it has been learned.
The site sits among valuable real estate near Todaiji temple, a World Heritage site. The Taisho-era Japanese-style official residence has a reception room in which the late Emperor Showa signed the instruments of ratification for such postwar diplomatic documents as the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
The prefectural government sees the land as a “drawing card” to attract a luxury hotel with the aim of luring wealthy tourists, who now stay in nearby Osaka and Kyoto prefectures. Sources say a major foreign hotel chain operator has expressed interest.
The land is also located very close to Nara Park, where many deer wander freely among foreign tourists. Surrounded by trees, the old residence perfectly matches the surrounding scenery.
The wooden, one-floor residence was constructed in 1922 and has a floor space of 670 square meters. It stands on 2,840 square meters of land.
In November 1951, Emperor Showa stayed at the residence and signed the instruments of ratification to attest the treaties.
The prefectural government wants to lease a 3.2-hectare area with the official residence and other facilities as a whole. In addition to the governor’s official residence, the site includes the Yoshiki-en Japanese garden owned by the prefectural government.
The prefectural government envisages the construction of a two-story hotel on the site. It will accept proposals from interested parties on Feb. 23-24 and plans to select an entity with priority negotiation rights.
The prefectural government expects the new hotel to open in spring 2019. Nara Gov. Shogo Arai will relocate to another place near the prefectural government building as early as this year.
Nara Prefecture has the fewest hotel and inn rooms of the nation’s 47 prefectures. In 2015, the prefecture hosted 2.55 million visitors who stayed overnight, ranking second from bottom among all prefectures.
Despite the area boasting leading tourism resources — including temples, shrines and Buddha statues that have been designated national treasures — visitors tend to stay in Osaka and Kyoto prefectures overnight.
To improve the situation, the prefectural government has been making efforts to attract foreign luxury hotels. In April last year, the U.S. hotel chain Marriott International announced it will open a luxury brand hotel in the city in 2020.
The latest plan to lease the governor’s official residence is part of the prefecture’s efforts to attract foreign hotels.
Sources said the prefectural government has contacted a number of overseas hotel chain operators, and the head of the operator of an Asian luxury hotel has visited the site twice.
The governor has expressed confidence. “Super top-grade hotels can open here,” Arai said.
Official residences used for various purposes
Some governors do not live in official residences. Instead, the residences — many of which were built in the Taisho or early Showa eras — are used for other purposes. Some are tourist spots with charming, old-fashioned atmospheres.
In 2008, then Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto announced he would abolish the official governor’s residence. Past governors including famed comedian-turned-Gov. Knock Yokoyama lived in the building, which has been used for conferences and other purposes. It has been open to the public once a week since September.
The Okayama prefectural government sold its aged governor’s official residence to a private company in March 2015. The Kagawa prefectural government sold its governor’s official residence years ago. A condominium building now stands at the site, according to the general and educational affairs section of the prefectural government.
The governor’s official residence in Miyazaki Prefecture was completed in 2003. Former Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru, who was elected in 2007, did not live there. It was opened to the public and attracted many visitors. Current Gov. Shunji Kono lives in the official residence, but there is working space for public use.Speech